TORONTO – Randy Carlyle knew the challenge wouldn't work itself out over night.
After his home debut on Tuesday night, it's clear the new head coach will have plenty of work to do. The Leafs allowed four goals against in a muddy second period, dropping a 5-4 decision to the Bruins at the ACC, their fifth loss in five meetings with Boston this season.
A concern and top priority since his takeover from Ron Wilson just days earlier, team defence struck a chord for Carlyle in the loss, which also saw Joffrey Lupul and Colby Armstrong depart with injuries.
“We've got enough goals to win the hockey game,” Carlyle said simply. “It's the defensive aspect that needs to be improved upon.”
Lost puck battles in front of the net and in the corners, missed assignments in dangerous scoring areas and a slew of leaks defensively in the middle frame ultimately cost the Leafs their sixth consecutive loss at home. The same troubles which plagued the hockey club in its final weeks under Wilson emerged in Carlyle's second game behind the bench. Tuesday marked the 10th time in the last 12 games that the Leafs have yielded three or more against, a definite recipe for failure with postseason aspirations slipping away.
“I think we deteriorated in some defensive situations where we were there, but we weren't strong enough on the puck,” Carlyle said. “If you look where the goals were scored from, those weren't tough enough areas from a defending standpoint from our hockey club.”
“We scored enough goals to win the game,” Dion Phaneuf stated, echoing the words of Carlyle. “We've just got to tighten up in our end.”
With the loss the Leafs remain entrenched in 12th in the Eastern Conference – with a date in Pittsburgh on Wednesday night – five points behind the Jets with three teams standing in the way.
“It's frustrating when you score four goals and you lose a hockey game,” Carlyle concluded. “That's as simple as I can put it.”
1. Potentially worrisome in the loss were injuries to Armstrong and Lupul, the latter presenting a real source of trouble if significant. Armstrong departed following a fight with Dennis Seidenberg in the second during which the Bruins defenceman managed to land at least one good shot to the nose, bloodying the Leafs oft-injured winger. The 29-year-old Armstrong is just over a month returned from a concussion which sidelined him for 18 games, not to mention the 23 games missed prior to that because of a right ankle sprain. Lupul meanwhile, took a hit from David Krejci in behind the Boston net and left favouring his right hand. Losing the 28-year-old and second leading scorer would present a major hole up front if he were to miss any length of time in the final days of the season. Neither player is expected to play in Pittsburgh on Wednesday night.
2. With a pair of lengthy practices following his Leaf debut on Saturday, Carlyle is looking to implement change on the defensive front. Without divulging too much in the way of details, Cody Franson offered a glimpse into the adjustments. “I think the main basis of it is just be a little bit more patient and kind of protect ourselves from those danger areas that we haven't necessarily been protecting that well as of late,” he told TSN.ca prior to the game. “We went into that skid and there was always something that bit us. It was a little bit different each game, but the one common thing was we weren't protecting our own house well enough. We weren't protecting our slot area that well. We were kind of cheating with things. We're going to try to be a little smarter in that area.”
3. Carlyle lamented the one-on-one battles his team lost to the defending Stanley Cup champions. “Winning your fair share of one-on-one battles is a skill-set and it has to be developed with this hockey club,” he said. “Expectations are that we've got to win more of our 50/50 battles or the one-on-one battles for the puck.” “You've got to read the play and try to be first to the puck,” Carl Gunnarsson noted. “We know we can do it. We did it for 40 minutes – first and third period – it's just a matter of doing it for 60. We know how to do it. It's just a matter of executing.” Having coached the likes of Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger in Anaheim, Carlyle explained why skill is involved in coming up with pucks in one-on-one situations. “There's a skill-set that's involved with it,” he said. “If you look at the great players in the game they have a good stick. Some players don't have to use their body. Like a Nik Lidstrom and Scott Niedermayer, Pronger, the elite-level defencemen that have played the game for a number of years had the ability to strip people of the puck with their stick. That's a select group. Other guys that played numbers of years ago had to use their body, get inside on people, use their skill-set that way.”
4. Mikhail Grabovski added his 21st goal of the year in defeat, hours after a five-year contract extension worth $27.5 million was announced. “For sure, it's nice feeling,” he said before the game. “When you protect your life in five years, right now you can concentrate on hockey. For sure inside you feel much better than [if] you don't have contract.” The 28-year-old had no interest in leaving Toronto, happy with partner Kate and their two childen. Grabovski made a quick impression on Carlyle with a three-point performance in Montreal three days prior. “Players like Grabovski demonstrate the will and the compete that's going to be required for this hockey club to continue to have success,” he said.
5. Typically one of the final players to exit the ice after practice, teammates offered one common thought on Grabovski. “His biggest attribute is his work ethic I think,” Franson said. “He's always out there working on certain areas that he's feeling needs a little bit more work I guess. It's guys like that are always pushing to be that much better that stay playing at a high level. He's not really letting himself get comfortable. It's what you want to see in a guy like that…I've played with some skill guys, but not skill guys that stay out for an hour after practice like that. He's pretty unique like that.”